My Great Great Grandfather, William Long Rogers, had a method of killing named after him called “Billy’s Mark”*; and my Great Great Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Blair Long Rogers (married to my Great Great Great Grandfather Patterson Rogers) once bought a baby for $10 and raised her as a slave. Let’s just put these little family stories in the “Rotten Apples” pile, shall we?
by Murphy Givens
William Rogers survived a massacre near the Rio Grande. If old stories are true, he got his revenge by systematically tracking down and killing the men who killed his family and left him, with his throat cut, to die. William Long “Billy” Rogers was born in Alabama in 1822. His father Patterson Rogers took the family to Fort Jessup, La., in 1836. His father and his brother-in-law sold provisions to the army, as “sutlers.” The family came to Corpus Christi when Taylor’s army camped here in 1845.
When Taylor was ordered to move the army to the Rio Grande in March, 1846, in preparation for the coming war with Mexico, the general set up an army supply depot at Port Isabel. Roswell Denton, William Rogers’ brother-in-law, was appointed sutler for the army. Denton sent a letter to the family in Corpus Christi, warning his father-in-law that it was too dangerous to move a wagon train from Corpus Christi to the border. The warning came too late. Patterson Rogers had already left, leading a supply train to Taylor’s army. Rogers took his two sons, William and Anderson and, in all, the supply train included 15 men, three women, and four children when it left Corpus Christi on April 25, 1846.
The train camped at Paso Real on the Colorado (near today’s Harlingen) when they were surrounded by 50 or more bandits from Reynosa. The Rogers party surrendered, after they had been promised they would be treated as prisoners of war, but the men were bound in pairs, stripped, their throats were cut, and the bodies thrown from a high bluff into the river below. William Rogers suffered a deep gash that severed his windpipe and stretched from ear to ear. But he was still alive when he was dumped into the river. He hid in a hole in the riverbank on the other side and watched as the bandits whooped and plundered the wagon train.
After the bandits left, loaded down with their booty, he wandered for days, half-conscious, naked, bleeding, and sunburned. He staggered through the chaparral between the Colorado and Rio Grande, surviving on berries and rainwater, which he could swallow by lying on his back.
On the fourth day he came to a Mexican ranch 40 miles from where the massacre took place. He was taken in and gently nursed back to health. Later, he was turned over to Matamoros authorities (over the objections of the girl who treated him). He was thrown in jail and finally released after one of Taylor’s officers threatened to bombard Matamoros if he wasn’t freed. His gaping wound was treated by an army doctor and Gen. Taylor dispatched a ship solely to return him to Corpus Christi.
While he was recuperating, Rogers learned Spanish. He returned to marry the girl who nursed him back to health, Julia Corona, and, it is said, she helped him in his search for the bandits. Billy’s mark Texas Rangers killed 24 of the cutthroat gang that had massacred the Rogers’ party. The story is that William Rogers prowled the border, searching for the other killers and, one by one, he found 20 more and killed them by cutting their throats. A slit throat became known as “Billy’s mark” on the border.
Rogers came back to Corpus Christi. He was elected sheriff and later was elected to the Legislature. He bought the Palo Alto Ranch and, in 1869, sold his stock and used the money to buy the St. James Hotel, which had just been built by J. T. James. Rogers and a partner built Market Hall to replace the old stalls; Rogers and his partner received rent from the markets while the city offices occupied the second floor of the building. Rogers later bought a sheep ranch near San Diego.
In 1871, he built a new home at Chaparral and Cooper’s Alley, but before he could move in a fire destroyed the building. Rogers had a second home built exactly like the first, and then went about organizing the city’s first fire department, the Pioneer Fire Company. William Long Rogers died on Dec. 17, 1877, at the age of 56 – 31 years after his throat was cut by border bandits on the Arroyo Colorado. He was buried in Bayview Cemetery.